It’s only the second time in history that a cyberattack delivered confirmed physical damage to its target, but no one seemed to notice because the hacking story at the time was all about a Seth Rogen movie and Sony executives. Just before Christmas a German report confirmed that an unnamed steel mill was attacked by hackers. Due to control manipulations a “blast furnace could not be properly shut down, resulting in ‘massive’—though unspecified—damage,” according to Wired.
The first time on record that hackers were able to inflict physical damage was with the Stuxnet virus which the U.S. and Israel used to sabotage plants that Iran was employing for its nuclear program. That attack led to many warnings from security experts that more would be on the way and that we might not like how they turn out.
The German report does not specify when or where (somewhere in Germany) the hack occurred, but it did indicate a belief that the responsible party seemed to know the industrial systems that it was targeting. “The know-how of the attacker was very pronounced not only in conventional IT security but extended to detailed knowledge of applied industrial controls and production processes,” the report claims.
Still, it’s possible that no physical damage was ever intended, which is another problem experts have warned about. In this new form of warfare, incompetent hackers might just want to cause someone a headache and accidentally shut off power to crucial infrastructure. Or worse.